• Opera Review: Forgotten Broadway masterpiece comes to life
    By Jim Lowe
     | August 14,2014
    Photo by Carl S. Brandon

    Hanner Brammer is Rose and Lee Steiner is Sam in Opera North’s production of “Street Scene.”

    LEBANON, N.H. — It’s easy to dismiss folks lamenting the “Golden Age” of Broadway — until experiencing a true masterpiece like “Street Scene.”

    Opera North’s Young Company opened a beautiful, funny and heart-wrenching production of Kurt Weill’s 1947 Broadway hit Tuesday at the Lebanon Opera House. It was well cast, well performed and a revelation when compared with current musical theater.

    “Street Scene,” which earned the first Tony Award for best musical score, was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Elmer Rice and employed lyrics by Langston Hughes. Its gritty plot is set to brilliant music reflecting influences from blues to Broadway, and even Puccini. Weill called it — appropriately — “American opera.”

    Set on the stoop of a 1946 New York tenement, the plot concerns an older couple and a younger couple, and their many neighbors. Rose Maurrant is a hardworking young woman who is hoping to escape from this ghetto. Sam Kaplan is a somewhat nerdy law student with the same aspiration. And the two love each other.

    Rose’s parents are the other couple. Frank is abusive, emotionally and physically, toward Anna, who begins seeking solace elsewhere. And that’s the catalyst for the story’s tragedy — but there’s a lot of fun along the way.

    Not only are the main characters deeply and astutely drawn, they are reflected in the easily accessible but very sophisticated music. Put simply, the tunes are hummable, but the accompaniments aren’t. Weill, composer of “The Threepenny Opera,” called this his greatest work.

    Opera North’s production, conducted by artistic director Louis Burkot and directed and choreographed by Marc Astafan, proved a deeply rewarding experience at Tuesday’s opener. The fine Young Artists, the excellent professional Opera North orchestra, and a virtual army of technicians made for a polished production.

    Soprano Hanna Brammar proved a warm and lyrical singer and personality as the conflicted Rose. Tenor Lee Steiner was also a warm lyrical singer and, save for the scene where he was consoling Rose, quite convincing and attractive.

    Soprano Audra Jo Casebier delivered a powerhouse performance as the deeply troubled Anna Maurrant, both vocally and theatrically. Not only was her musical delivery deeply powerful, her portrayal was most sympathetic.

    Baritone Branch Fields was truly dark, vocally and theatrically, as husband Frank, but he also delivered the character’s dimension.

    Comic relief is provided by the promiscuous teen neighbor and her current suitor. Rachel Zatcoff was flirtatiously charming as Mae Jones, and Nathan Jentink delightly goofy as Dick McGann. Both were outstanding dancers as well as singers, and he tap-danced up a storm.

    The remainder of the huge cast was largely excellent. The children’s chorus was simply amazing — and most entertaining. A particularly outstanding vocal performance came from bass-baritone Trevor Neal as the janitor Henry Davis. The complex score was delivered deftly and beautifully by Burkot and the orchestra.

    Unfortunately, the performance was marred by the same amplification problems as “My Fair Lady.” While the stage was miked, some performers were individually miked and some were not, and the contrast was unfortunate. Should young opera singers need microphones in a small theater? Not likely.

    Karen Kaslowski’s set design was utilitarian, but neither attractive nor imaginative. Conversely, lighting by John Bartenstein and costumes by Kearney Starr and Marissa Baker were quite fine.

    Opera North’s “Street Scene” is an unusual opportunity to enjoy a nearly forgotten Broadway masterpiece.

    Opera North

    Opera North presents three works in repertory; remaining performances are: “My Fair Lady” ($88-$32), 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16, 19; “La Traviata” ($88-$32), 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15, 20; and “Street Scene” ($35-$25, $5 for ages 6-18) 7:30 p.m. tonight, and 2 p.m. Aug. 17. All performances are at the Lebanon Opera House, 51 N. Park St. in Lebanon, N.H. All are accompanied by full orchestra, and “La Traviata” is sung in the original Italian with English surtitles. For tickets, call 603-448-0400, or go online to www.lebanonoperahouse.org. For information, visit www.operanorth.org.

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